The Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail answered questions Monday about investigative stories they published involving separate drug allegations about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his brother Coun. Doug Ford.
The Ontario Press Council is looking into complaints about a Star story published in mid-May that alleged Mayor Ford was videotaped smoking crack cocaine, and another against a Globe and Mail story published days later about allegations that Coun. Ford was a drug dealer in his youth.
At issue, the council says, is whether the newspapers "engaged in irresponsible, unethical investigative reporting." The council will also address issues such as whether the stories are in the public interest and whether or not the Fords were given ample time to respond to allegations in the stories.
"I tell you now, with great emphasis, that the story is true. Every word of it," said Michael Cooke, editor in chief of the Star, of the story headlined "Rob Ford in 'Crack Cocaine' Video Scandal" that appeared online on May 16 and the following day in the print edition of the Star.
"Mayor Ford still owes Toronto a full answer," Cooke said.
He said the Star gave Rob Ford 14 chances to respond to the story the night before it ran.
He said Ford has yet to substantively address the allegations and has instead spent recent months "ducking and dodging" questions on the issue.
The mayor has said he does not smoke crack cocaine and that the video does not exist. Doug Ford has also denied he was a drug dealer in his youth, as the Globe story alleged.
The Fords were invited to file complaints with the press council so they could participate in Monday’s hearings, but had not done so by Friday. The Fords did not attend Monday’s public hearings.
'We do not have a vendetta against Mayor Ford'
On several occasions throughout his term as mayor, Ford suggested the Star's coverage in particular was targeting him unfairly. Cooke responded directly to that charge during Monday's proceedings.
"We do not have a vendetta against Mayor Ford," he said. "We simply don't."
The Ontario Press Council has raised the issue of anonymity in the story, as no sources were named in the Star's investigation into purported drug use by the mayor. Star writer Kevin Donovan, who reported the story, said it was in the public interest to publish it, and without anonymity there would have been no story.
Two complaints made to the press council will stand in for the dozens filed against the newspapers over coverage of the Fords.
The council has no legal authority and does not rule on whether or not the reports are true, only whether they were reported responsibly.
In a story published on Monday, Cooke said he welcomes the chance to defend the newspaper's reporting on Rob Ford.
"Any time we have an opportunity to talk about and debate journalism, we welcome it," he said. "Accuracy and fairness is our bread and butter."
The hearings were held at Ryerson University in Toronto. The complaint about the Star story was heard at 10 a.m. ET. The complaint regarding the Globe and Mail report was heard Monday afternoon.
Globe and Mail staff members were questioned about the paper's reporting of the personal struggles of the Ford brothers' siblings.
There was also discussion about the use of anonymous sources in the story that alleged Coun. Ford had dealt hashish in his youth.
Complainant Connie Harrison, who was once profiled by the newspaper as a Ford supporter, said the use of anonymous sources undermines the public's trust.
"We don't know who to believe at this point," she said Monday, when speaking to the panel.
John Stackhouse, the Globe and Mail's editor in chief, said the paper had to rely on those anonymous sources as they were the only people who could confirm the information.
Stackhouse said the paper could have declined to publish the allegations in the story, but told the panel that would have been "irresponsible," given their serious nature and the political influence held by the councillor.
Coun. Ford has denied the allegations made in the report and publicly said he has "never dealt hash" in his life.
The day after the Globe and Mail report was published, the mayor and his brother talked about their frustrations with the press on their weekly radio show.
Mayor Ford then called the media a "bunch of maggots," but subsequently apologized for characterizing them in that way.
The press council decisions will be made public and posted on its website later this month. The council's full ruling will also be published in both newspapers.
Ford's life both at and outside of Toronto City Hall has frequently made headlines since he was elected as mayor nearly three years ago.